Lovely Maria returns as even-money Delaware Oaks favorite
Lovely Maria rose to the top of the three-year-old filly division with convincing victories in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Ashland Stakes (G1), and remains at the fore on the main track, but the turf brilliance displayed by Lady Eli in recent months makes for a very tight race – Lovely Maria will need to keep winning to earn the Eclipse Award.
The Larry Jones trainee gets back to business Saturday in the $300,000 Delaware Oaks (G2), returning from a 71-day freshening to face seven rivals at the 1 1/16-mile distance. Regular rider Kerwin Clark has the call aboard the Majesticperfection filly and Lovely Maria has been installed as the even-money choice on the morning line.
Her 101 last-race BRIS Speed rating, which she earned recording a sharp 2 ¾-length decision in the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs, towers over the competition and Lovely Maria is the 122-pound highweight, spotting six pounds to all foes except Parx Oaks winner Danzatrice at 118.
The Delaware Oaks serves as tune-up for Lovely Maria’s main goal this summer, the $600,000 Alabama (G1) at Saratoga on August 22.
White Clover, who extended her win streak to two with a 1 ½-length tally in the June 3 Our Mims at Delaware Park, comes next on the morning line at 5-1. Also trained by Jones, the gray lass will be ridden by Michael Ritvo.
Peace and War, an upset winner of the Alciabides (G1) last fall, opened 2015 with a pair of disappointing last-place finishes, but could be turning things around following a runner-up in the Our Mims. She made her first start for Hall of Famer trainer Bill Mott last time and the deep closer will add a Hall of Fame rider in John Velazquez. She’s listed at 6-1.
Danzatrice exits a fourth in the Acorn (G1) on the Belmont Stakes (G1) undercard and Hip Hop N Jazz, unbeaten in two starts for Tom Proctor, will be making her stakes debut.
Rounding out the field are Bar of Gold, Calamity Kate and Milaya.
One race earlier on the undercard, 11 distaffers will square off at 1 3/8 grassy miles in the $200,000 Robert G. Dick Memorial (G3). Top contenders include Courtesan, Kitten’s Point, Rosalind and Striking Style.
Lovely Maria photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography